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Outstanding Medical Students Tackle the Next Frontier in Medicine

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Photo: Back row, from left: Vineet Sharma, Eric Tam, Steffanie Wright, Edward Ellison, M.D., executive medical director & chairman of the board, Southern California Permanente Medical Group, Shah Steiner, Allison Van Vooren, Kian Asanad.

Front row, from left: Jose Alonso, Priya Panneerselvam, Bianca Carson, Sara Kim, Maria R. Carrasco, M.D., family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Montebello Medical Offices and national physician lead for Kaiser Permanente's National Diversity & Inclusion Council, Lizett Wilkens y Martinez.

Not pictured: Omar Viramontes.


"It will be physicians, like you, who will be the future of medicine, because eliminating disparities in health care represents the next frontier in medicine, as the U.S. population continues to become more diverse.” These were the opening remarks delivered by Edward Ellison, M.D., executive medical director, Southern California Permanente Medical Group, during the recent 2016 Oliver Goldsmith, M.D., Scholarship for the promotion and advancement of culturally responsive care.

Twelve outstanding medical students were honored at the awards ceremony in Pasadena, California, for their early commitment to reducing cultural and linguistic barriers to health care. From starting community based initiatives that focus on eliminating health disparities in homeless communities to advancing free health screening programs, the attendees were recognized for their dedication to promoting culturally competent clinical care, providing leadership for health delivery systems, and conducting research on health disparities – all while attending school full time.

Each awardee received a $5,000 scholarship funded by Kaiser Permanente to help complete their studies, mentoring from a Kaiser Permanente clinician for one year, and a four- to six-week clinical rotation at a Kaiser Permanente facility.

The scholarship honors Oliver Goldsmith, M.D., retired medical director of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, and champion of culturally responsive care. Scholarships are awarded to medical students entering the third or fourth years of study.

The 2016 scholarship recipients are:

Jose Alonso
Jose Alonso is entering his fourth year at the Charles R. Drew University/David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Alonso is fluent in Spanish and plans to specialize in head & neck surgery, looking forward to building a practice in which he can reduce health disparities, improve access to care, and improve the quality of life of one patient at a time.

Among his many achievements, Alonso has:

  • Volunteered for the Care Harbor LA Free Clinic from 2016 – 2015, where he conducted patient histories and interviews in Spanish. He has also used his bilingual skills to assist patients with ear, nose, and throat complaints at various health fairs.
  • Serves as a mentor for the Latino Medical Student Association and assisted premedical students with their application process.
  • While in medical school, he received the Uni-Health Foundation Scholars Initiative Scholarship and the National Hispanic Health Foundation Scholarship for his commitment to providing culturally responsive care to medically underserved communities.

Kian Asanad
Kian Asanad is entering his third year at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. Asanad, who is fluent in Persian, was inspired to pursue medicine at the age of 14 when his parents depended on him to navigate through the health care system and communicate with the medical team treating his father. Asanad is interested in family medicine, but also excited to explore other specialties during his third year.

Among his many achievements, Asanad has:

  • Held numerous leadership roles, including serving as coordinator of the UCLA Mobile Clinic Project where he aimed to teach fellow students how to reduce barriers to care.
  • Participated in “The UCLA Mobile Clinic Project: Assessing Quality of Care through Client Satisfaction” research project, which provided a framework for student-run clinics for implementing patient-centered and culturally responsive care.
  • In 2012, he co-founded Furnish the Homeless, a non-profit student-run organization that collects and delivers furniture discarded by students to formerly homeless Angelenos who are living in transitional housing units throughout the city.

Bianca Carson
Bianca Carson is entering her fourth year at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington D.C., and plans to specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Carson has experience providing services to the socially and economically disadvantaged, seeing firsthand the complexity that patients and providers face while managing multiple medical issues and chronic diseases. As a physician, she looks forward to building on those experiences and being able to provide culturally responsive care through understanding each patient’s individual needs and background.

Among her numerous achievements, Carson has:

  • Served as a research trainee for the Minority Health International Research Training Program, where she traveled to Accra, Ghana to administer psychological assessments.
  • Since last August, Carson has served as clinic manager at New Freedmen’s Clinic, which is a student-run and attendee-supervised health care initiative that serves the uninsured and underserved residents of Washington, D.C.
  • Carson currently serves as a mentor for the Minority Association of Premed Students, representing undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students. For more than two years, she has provided advice to students applying to medical school.


Sara Kim
Kim is entering her fourth year at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University. Kim plans to specialize in pediatrics and looks forward to using her leadership and community health experience to working with diverse populations and care for young patients and their families.

Among her numerous achievements, Kim has:

  • Volunteered since 2014 as a student physician responsible for an underserved Haitian family with minimal health care access.
  • Made quarterly home visits and provided community resources such as nutritional counseling, tutoring services to their two children, and access to free dental care.
  • Served as a representative for the American Academy of Pediatrics, assisting in the development of an annual advocacy campaign.


Priya Panneerselvam
Priya Panneerselvam is entering her fourth year at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, and plans to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology. During her undergraduate years, Panneerselvam volunteered as a chronic disease counselor at a free clinic in Sacramento where she discovered that she needed to use a culturally responsive approach to better help patients manage their conditions.

Among her many achievements, Panneerselvam has:

  • Led a healthy body, healthy mind workshop series in 2014 for youth at the San Jose Homeless Shelter, which encouraged children to cultivate better eating and exercising habits.
  • Volunteered as a computer literacy teacher at the Oakland Drug & Rehabilitation Facility for Pregnant & Parenting Mothers.
  • Volunteered with the Shriner’s Free Pediatric Clinic, which assesses uninsured, Spanish-speaking pediatric patients, primarily screening for orthopedic issues.


Vineet Sharma
Vineet Sharma is entering his fourth year at Wayne State University School of Medicine. Sharma is fluent in Hindi and plans to specialize in family medicine or emergency medicine. Witnessing his parents’ struggle with their health helped Sharma understand that medicine involves more than just science; it requires a cultural and social understanding to truly care for patients. Sharma’s goal as a physician is to reduce health care disparities and inspire others around him to work together towards advancing medical care for underserved patients.

Among his numerous accomplishments, Sharma has:

  • Served as Teen Clinic Coordinator for AltaMed Health Services, providing health education, preventive services, and patient counseling regarding Medi-Cal programs. He served more than 1,500 hours, helping to coordinate health fairs and develop unique programs that positively impacted low-income patients.
  • Participated in the Harbor-UCLA Summer Urban Health Fellowship, where he conducted research addressing health care disparities in underserved patients in South Los Angeles.
  • He is currently working on a social justice clinic project at UCLA-Olive View Emergency Department that aims to screen and identify barriers to care for undocumented patients.


Shah Steiner
Shah Steiner is entering his third year at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine. Steiner is fluent in Farsi and plans to specialize in emergency medicine. As a physician, he looks forward to advancing culturally responsive care by applying his knowledge in public health to reduce health disparities and provide opportunities for people of all backgrounds to enter the health profession.

Steiner’s accomplishments include:

  • As the program director for the Office of Student and Resident Diversity at UC Davis, developing and implementing a 12-week program designed to expose local, socioeconomically underserved high school students to the field of medicine.
  • Serving as clinic co-director at the Shifa Community Student Run Clinic in Sacramento where he performs physical exams and works with undergraduate students and interpreters to coordinate patient care.
  • Serving as a medical student representative for the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical School Society where he collaborates with local physicians to improve the health of the community and lobbies for medical initiatives focused on improving community health.


Eric Tam
Eric Tam is entering his third year at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Tam is fluent in Cantonese, and plans to specialize in family medicine. Tam’s passion for medicine goes beyond science. He is committed to treating the individual as a whole and believes that understanding their unique background is crucial to providing culturally responsive care.

Among Tam’s many accomplishments, he has:

  • Become involved in community service through experiential learning, mentorship, and curricula, as a 2015-2016 Los Angeles Albert Schweitzer Fellow.
  • Collaborated with the University of Southern California’s physical therapy program to bring musculoskeletal care to the homeless population served by the UCLA Mobile Clinic.
  • Volunteered for the UCLA Mobile Clinic, which provides free medical, social, and legal services to more than 1,800 individuals each year.


Allison Van Vooren
Allison Van Vooren is entering her third year at the UCLA School of Medicine PRIME Program. Van Vooren is fluent in Spanish, and plans to specialize in family medicine. Her interest in culturally responsive care blossomed while volunteering as a Spanish translator at the UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic. Working closely with underserved patients at the clinic opened her eyes to significant barriers to health that many patients endure. Seeing physicians treat patients with dignity and kindness showed Van Vooren that these barriers can be addressed and eradicated with the proper care and attention.

Some of her accomplishments include:

  • Serving as the coordinator for the Family Medicine Interest Group at UCLA since February 2015, planning events for medical students to learn more about family medicine and opportunities to get involved in community health.
  • Being actively involved in the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) at UCLA, managing a new website.
  • Participating in the UCLA Family Medicine Department Health Professional Shortages Areas and Access to Health Disparities Research Fellowship last summer. During this fellowship, she investigated the effect of multidisciplinary care on the management of polypharmacy among geriatric patients in a community health center.


Omar Viramontes
Omar Viramontes is entering his third year at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Viramontes is fluent in Spanish, and plans to specialize in Internal or Family Medicine.

Viramontes was born in Zacatecas, Mexico, and raised in the San Joaquin Valley in California. At an early age, Viramontes and his family lost their home and possessions in a fire. Not long after the fire, Viramontes’ mother was in a severe accident. The suboptimal medical attention his mother received resulted in Viramontes’ determination to become a physician who could provide high-quality, culturally responsive care.

This past summer, Viramontes participated in the Family Medicine Research Fellowship. One of his projects was to conduct a peer review describing the challenges and success of enrolling patients in an Affordable Care Act setting at a community health center that serves low-income adults and children in East Los Angeles.

Viramontes’ accomplishments include:

  • Serving as co-chair of the UCLA Latino Medical Student Association since 2015, where his efforts have included helping to organize free health fairs.
  • Contributing to the pipeline of future culturally responsive and competent health care physicians by helping to organize mentorship and leadership events.
  • Organizing and participating in several medical missions in Nicaragua, providing medical supplies, water filters, literacy materials, and wheelchairs for the Antonio Lenin Fonseca Hospital. During his missions, Viramontes helped with a diverse range of educational, environmental, and medical issues. 


Lizett Wilkens y Martinez
Lizett Wilkins y Martinez is entering her third year at the UCSD School of Medicine. Martinez is fluent in Spanish, and is deciding between specializing in either anesthesia, family medicine, or radiology. As a future physician, Martinez wants to be a leader and advocate for underserved communities, providing culturally responsive care and working towards health equality for all patients.

Martinez’ achievements include:

  • Serving as a member and co-leader of the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) at UCSD, where she enjoys mentoring first year medical students and coordinating culturally diverse events to increase awareness of Latino issues on the medical school campus.
  • Serving as a medical student mentor in the Kaiser Permanente Summer Urban Fellowship in San Ysidro, California. This program introduces high school students to the medical field with the long-term goal of increasing diversity in medicine.
  • Participating in the Healthy Youth into Healthy Careers Program in Chula Vista, California where she gained valuable experience contributing to community and health-related activities, including school-based clinics, home visits for newborns, and high school physicals for athletes.


Steffanie Wright
Steffanie Wright has completed her third year of medical school at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the UCLA School of Medicine PRIME Program. Wright is fluent in Spanish, and plans to specialize in Family Medicine. She is also pursuing a master’s in Public Health at Tulane University in New Orleans to make a meaningful difference in medicine, public health, and global health, particularly in underserved communities.

Among her many accomplishments, she has:

  • Served as the Pediatric human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) intern for the U.S. Agency for International Development. As an intern, she assisted in the coordination and implementation of programs focused on preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV and pediatric HIV both nationally and internationally, traveling to both Angola and Zambia.
  • Served as a medical student coordinator for the UCLA Mobile Clinic, which provides care to the underinsured and homeless in Los Angeles.
  • Mentored the Youth Leadership Council in New Orleans, where she was responsible for coaching and guiding students through all aspects of the college admissions process.